With costs for a restart escalating, Japan is considering scrapping its troubled Monju fast breeder nuclear reactor, just as a never-started nuclear plant in the Philippines may get a new lease on life.
Monju May Be Finished
Japan Times reported that readying the Monju plant for restart “would cost several hundred billion yen.” Sources said that “a political decision” on decommissioning is likely. The science ministry has been looking for someone to run the 280-MW facility (Figure 1) but has found no takers.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) last year ordered the ministry to come up with a new operator because of the plant’s poor performance. Construction began in 1986, and the plant first went critical in 1994. But a nasty fire caused by a leak of sodium coolant in December 1995 shut the plant down and led to a scandal as the semi-governmental operator at the time tried to cover up the accident.
The breeder remained closed until May 2010. A series of new incidents marred the restart, including a sodium heater failure and a series of skipped safety inspections. According to Japan Times, the plant has operated a total of just 250 days during its 20-year-plus lifespan, “at a cost of more than one trillion yen in building and maintenance costs.” Either restart or decommissioning would cost several hundred billion yen, the NRA said.
Bataan Out of Mothballs?
Meanwhile in the Philippines, the government is considering taking the country’s only nuclear plant out of mothballs and starting it up, according to a Reuters report. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant northwest of Manila (Figure 2) is a 620-MW Westinghouse pressurized water reactor that was completed in 1984 at a cost of $2 billion but never loaded with fuel.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi reportedly told a nuclear meeting in Manila, “We have to weigh all our options for the Philippines to meet its growing power needs, with annual electricity demand expected to rise by an average 5% until 2030.” Cusi told the meeting he will resurrect a 2007 government “task force” that was created to study the country’s power choices. Reviving the plant would cost $1 billion, he said.
Yet finally starting the project would face environmental opposition, Cusi acknowledged. The plant sits on a major fault and lies near the Pinatubo volcano, though the major 1991 eruption at Pinatubo had no effect on the plant.
The late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered Bataan built in the 1970s while the country was under martial law, but turmoil in the country as the 30-year Marcos regime was falling apart and the discovery of the fault line prevented it from ever starting up. The Philippine government looked at loading fuel and running the plant a decade ago, but the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 put that idea on hold.
—Kennedy Maize is a frequent POWER contributor.